- The Maurya Empire (322 – 185 B.C.E.) was a powerful political and military empire in ancient India, ruled by the Mauryan dynasty.
- Chandragupta Maurya founded the Empire in 322 B.C.E., after overthrowing the Nanda Dynasty.
Origin and Expansion
- In the aftermath of Alexander the Great’s death, Chandragupta Maurya conquered the Punjab region from the southeastern edges of Alexander’s former empire.
- He extended his empire across northern India and his son, Bindusara, continued the expansion into the Deccan region, stopping around Karnataka.
- Ashoka added Kalinga to the empire, but the conquest led him to embrace Buddhism and abandon military conquest.
- The empire shrank after Ashoka’s death due to invasions, defections, and quarrels over ascension.
- Brihadratha, the last ruler, was killed in 185 BCE by his Brahman commander in chief, Pushyamitra, who founded the Shunga dynasty.
Achievements of Chandragupta Maurya
- Chandragupta Maurya succeeded the Nanda throne in about 321 B.C. at the age of 25, with the guidance of his mentor, Brahmana Kautilya.
- He overthrew the Nandas and established the rule of Mauryan empire.
- He defeated the Greeks, after which the Seleucids and the Mauryans maintained friendly relations.
- He gained control over the area of Northern Karnataka by defeating Southern India.
- He embraced Jainism towards the end of his life, according to Jain sources.
- Chandragupta Maurya was a great warrior, empire builder, and skilled administrator.
- He is regarded as the first ruler of the integrated India and the first great historical emperor of India.
Ashoka (273BC – 232BC)
Childhood and early career
- Ashoka was the son of Bindusara and showed great promise in administration from childhood.
- Bindusara appointed him as the governor of Ujjain/Avanti.
The Battle of Kalinga
- Ashoka fought the battle of Kalinga in the 8th year of his reign in 261BC.
- The bloodshed had a deep impact on him, and he gave up the policy of Digvajaya and adopted the policy of Dhammavijaya.
- Initially followed Brahmin religion, but after Kalinga, he converted himself to Buddhism.
- He remained a simple adorer for 2.5 years and then entered Buddhist sangha and became a Bhikshu Gatik.
- The definition of Dhamma is produced by Ashoka in his 2nd and 7th pillar edict.
- In his inscriptions, Ashoka mentioned a few good points of Dhamma such as:
- No killing of humans.
- No destruction of properties.
- To serve and respect parents and adults.
- To respect the mentors and teachers.
- Good behavior with the slaves and servants.
- To spend less and preserve less.
- In the 13th Major Rock Edict, Ashoka considers Dhammavijaya to be the greatest victory.
- Ashoka was the first ruler in world history to carry out the policy of Dhamma imperialiste victory without violence.
- For the propagation of Dhamma, Ashoka appointed a new category of ministers named ”Dhammamahamatra”.
- Other officials such as Yukta, Rajukka, Pradeshika, etc., were given the responsibility of propagating the principles of Dhamma.
- Varna system had completely developed during the time of Mauryas.
- Four types of Varna i.e., Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra and their work was decided according to their Varna.
- There were Varnashankaras such as Nishad, Magadh, Sut, Veg, Chandals, etc.
- The Sati system was prevalent among the Kath tribes of Punjab.
- Entertainment and Amusement were prevalent through hunting, acting, magic, drama, painting, Vihara-yatra, Samaj and Pravahana.
Mauryan Art and Architecture
Court Art and Royal Buildings: The palaces of the Mauryan empire were described as one of the greatest creations of mankind.
Pillars: Ashoka mainly used these pillars for the propagation of Dhamma. Motifs associated with pillars include One Lion, Elephant, Bull, and Four Lions.
Sarnath Pillar: The best example of Ashoka’s art and architecture.
Caves: The Mauryan period saw the beginning of rock cut cave architecture. The Barabar and Nagarjuni hills contain several caves built by Ashoka and Dasharatha.
Stupas: Stupas consist of a cylindrical drum with a circular dome, a Harmika, and a Chhatra on the top. The entire structure is enclosed by a low wall called Vedika, which is punctuated at the four cardinal points by Toranas(gateways). The Sanchi stupa in Madhya Pradesh is the most famous of the Ashokan stupas.
Viharas: The Viharas in India were originally constructed to shelter the monks during the rainy season, when it became difficult for them to lead the wanderer’s life. In Patliputra Ashoka built Ashokaram vihara and Kakuttaram
Mauryan Economy and Folk Art
Stone Sculpture: Several large stone sculptures found in Patna, Mathura, Madhya Pradesh, and other places. Many of them represent Yaksha and Yakshi.
Terracotta: Flourished with the expansion of urban centers. Include male and female figurines, animals, and carts.
Pottery: Pottery of the Mauryan period is generally referred to as Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). Kosambi and Patliputra were the centers of NBPW pottery.
Revenue System and Taxation: Primary source of revenue for the state was land revenue. The royal share of the produce of the soil is known as Bhaga, generally amounted to one-sixth. Tax collected both in cash and kind. Tax-free villages known as Pariharaka and tax-free land known as Udwalik or Parihar. Emergency tax known as Pranay tax.
Agriculture: Most important feature of the economy was agriculture. The economy of the state was based on agriculture, animal husbandry, and trade. Principal crops were rice, barley, millet, and wheat. The principal industries were spinning and weaving.
Communication and Transport: Roads and ports were important ways of communication. Four main roads: Uttarapath, Dakshinapath, a road connecting Bhrigukacch to Mathura, and a road beginning from Champa to Kaushambi. Ports: Barbairikam, Bhrigukacch, Sopra, and Tamralipti. State had monopoly over some products such as wine, salt, mine, ships, forest, etc.
Trade and Commerce: External trade carried on with Syria, Egypt, Greece, etc., and after the conquest of Kalinga, with the countries of South-East Asia and China. The chief articles of export were spices, pearls, diamonds, sandalwoods, ivory, cotton cloth, silk yarn, muslin, etc. Principal imports were linen, silver, gold, dry fruits, etc. State had a monopoly of mining and metallurgy, a source of great income.
Coins: Coins were called Roop. Other types of coins were Nishaka/Suvarna, Karshapan/Dharan/Pann, and Mashak/Kakini. There were state minting factories also, and its head was responsible for the quality and purity of coins.
The Mauryan Administration
The Mauryas had a huge administrative system which was described in the Indica of Megasthenes and Arthashastra of Kautilya. The king was the head of the state and had legislative, executive, and judicial powers. The council of ministers was called Parishad, which constituted the inner circle and carried out policies framed by the cabinet.
- The king was the pivotal head of the state.
- He had legislative, executive, and judicial power.
- He was the supreme commander of the army.
- The Commander-in-chief assisted the king in planning military operations.
- The king was assisted by his council of ministers, which were headed by the Mantriparishadadhyaksha.
Council of Ministers
- The council of ministers is called Parishad.
- Kautilya refers to two kinds of ministers, i.e., the Mantrins and the Amatyas.
- The Mantrins constituted the inner circle of the Parishad, which corresponded to the modern cabinet.
- Policies were framed by the cabinet while the Amaytas carried them out.
- The ministers were directly responsible to the king for the due discharge of their duties.
- The Paura Janapada was the assembly of the people of the town and the country.
- This assembly could demand Anguttaras or favours from the king in times of crisis.
- This assembly could undertake social work and give relief to the poor and helpless.
- The Paura Janapada acted as a powerful check on royal authority.
- In each province, there was a governor or viceroy who was sometimes a prince of royal blood.
- The princes, when appointed as viceroys, were called Kumar Mahamatras, while the rest of the viceroys were simply designated as Mahamatras.
- Provinces were further divided into mandals (commissionaires), and its head was known as Pradeshta.
District Administration/ Aahar/ Vishay
- Each was administered by officers, i.e., Pradeshika, Yukta, and Rajukka.
- Pradeshika was senior and Rajukka was subordinate. Yukta was subordinate to both of them.
- It was the duty of Pradeshika to tour the kingdom every five years and collect details of the administration.
- The revenue and general administration were carried on in the districts by Sthanikas and Gopas with their staff of officials.
- The Gopa had charge of five to ten villages in which he supervised the maintenance of boundaries, registered gifts, sales and mortgages, and kept an accurate census of the people and their material resources.
- The Sthanika had similar duties in the district under his charge, and the Gopa necessarily functioned under him.
- The Sthanikas were responsible to Samaharta, who commanded the services of Pradeshtris who were identical with the Pradeshikas of the Ashoka inscription for the supervision of local administration.
- The village was the smallest unit of administration in charge of an official called Gramika.
- Village elders (gram-viddhas) had a share in guiding and assisting the people generally and assisting the officials of the government in disposing of petty disputes arising in the village.
- According to Megasthenese, Patliputra was controlled by a municipal commission of 30 members who were divided into six boards of five members each.
- All the municipal commissioners in their collective capacity were required to control all the affairs of the city and keep in order the markets, temples, harbours, and public works.
- Efficient judicial system in Mauryan state
- King as the fountain head of justice
- Two classes of courts: Dharmasthiya (civil) and Kantakshodhan (criminal)
- Supreme Court at capital presided by king as chief justice
- Subordinate courts at headquarters of provinces, divisions, and districts
- Villages had popular courts of village elders for minor cases
- Kautilya emphasized espionage system for progress, efficiency, and stability
- Mahamatyapasharpa head of spies
- Two types of spies: Sanstha (stationary) and Sanchara (wandering)
- Mauryas had large, well-equipped army three times larger than Nandas
- Army consisted of infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots
- Arthashastra refers to camel and ass corps
- War office of 30 members divided into six boards of 5 members each
Decline and Disintegration of the Mauryan Empire
- Mauryan Empire was first empire in India
- Empire declined due to neutral policies of Ashoka, leading to Brahmin anti-reactions and Brahmanic revolution
- Exploitative rule of provincial Amatyas
- Evidences of local revolts during Bindusara and Ashoka’s time
- Extreme centralization of administration and power, lack of sovereignty among administrative units
- Strong network of bureaucrats and spies complicated the system
- Weak successors after Ashoka led to disintegration and decentralized administration, contributing to decline of the empire.
Q1: Who was King Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire?
A: King Ashoka, also known as Ashoka the Great, was one of the most famous emperors of the Mauryan Empire. He ruled from approximately 268 BCE to 232 BCE.
Q2: What is King Ashoka best known for?
A: King Ashoka is best known for his conversion to Buddhism and his efforts to spread Buddhist principles of non-violence, tolerance, and moral values through his empire.
Q3: How did Ashoka become the emperor of the Mauryan Empire?
A: Ashoka became the emperor of the Mauryan Empire after a succession war following the death of his father, Emperor Bindusara.
Q4: What were Ashoka’s major achievements during his reign?
A: Ashoka’s reign is characterized by his propagation of Buddhism, establishment of dhamma (ethical guidelines), and promotion of peace and religious tolerance.
Q5: Who were some of the other notable rulers of the Mauryan Empire?
A: Aside from Ashoka, some notable rulers of the Mauryan Empire include Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara, and Brihadratha.
Q6: How did the reigns of these rulers contribute to the empire’s history?
A: Chandragupta Maurya founded the empire, Bindusara expanded it, and Ashoka is remembered for his transformational policies.
Q7: What were the factors that led to the decline of the Mauryan Empire?
A: The decline of the Mauryan Empire can be attributed to various factors, including internal strife, external invasions, economic issues, and regional fragmentation.
Q8: When did the Mauryan Empire officially come to an end?
A: The Mauryan Empire officially came to an end around 185 BCE when it was overthrown by the Sunga dynasty.
Q9: Who was the founder of the Mauryan Empire?
A: The founder of the Mauryan Empire was Chandragupta Maurya, who established the empire around 322 BCE.
Q10: What were some of Chandragupta Maurya’s notable achievements?
A: Chandragupta Maurya’s achievements include the unification of northern India and the establishment of the Mauryan Empire. He was also known for his administration and alliance with Chanakya, a renowned scholar.
Q11: How was the Mauryan Empire administratively organized?
A: The Mauryan Empire had a well-organized administrative system with a centralized authority. It was divided into provinces (Janapadas) and further into districts (Vishayas), each with appointed officials.
Q12: What administrative reforms are associated with King Ashoka?
A: King Ashoka introduced several administrative reforms, including the appointment of Dhamma Mahamatras (officials to promote moral conduct), the use of edicts to communicate with subjects, and the development of a network of roads for better governance and communication.
In case you still have your doubts, contact us on 9811333901.
For UPSC Prelims Resources, Click here
For Daily Updates and Study Material:
Join our Telegram Channel – Edukemy for IAS
- 1. Learn through Videos – here
- 2. Be Exam Ready by Practicing Daily MCQs – here
- 3. Daily Newsletter – Get all your Current Affairs Covered – here
- 4. Mains Answer Writing Practice – here